That’s inappropriate

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A few years ago, I was standing with a friend at a wedding when an aunty approached us.

Beti! she addressed my friend, you’ve gained so much weight! What happened?

My friend and I froze before I did the first thing that came to my mind: I pretended like I hadn’t heard the question to save my friend the embarrassment of having to address it with an audience. I picked up my phone (even though it hadn’t rung) and yelled HELLO? as I walked off, deeply engaged in a one-way conversation with the dial tone. But I wasn’t fast enough and heard the rest of the exchange.

I had a baby, my friend answered.

Yes, beti, 2 years ago.

Keep in mind this woman had her last child 25 years ago – what was her excuse? She looked like she’d never seen the inside of a gym. The only running she’d probably ever done was to the buffet line earlier that evening.

This got me thinking about inappropriate questions – why some people think it’s appropriate to ask them and how best to respond. There may be some cultural and age issues at play, but the worst offenders are not always old aunties. These inappropriate questions run the gamut, from personal (how much do you weigh?) to professional (how much do you make?), and neither the old (are you going through menopause?) nor the young (what’s your SAT score?) are spared.

I think we can all agree that there are certain questions that should never be asked (the ones posed above definitely make the list). But there are two questions asked with regular frequency – almost exclusively to women – that should join Olestra, MSG, and transfat on the list of things that should never pass one’s lips:

When are you getting married? (Other iterations include, Why aren’t you married? and What are you waiting for?)

What single person hasn’t heard this question a zillion times? I honestly never knew how to answer it. Usually my response would depend on my mood: InshAllah soon or hell if I know.

What always struck me about this question – particularly the why aren’t you married? variety – is that I could never understand what the person was getting at. Was I really expected to give my hypothesis as to why I was still single?

I chose graduate school over marriage.
I’m too headstrong and opinionated for my own good.
I’m suuuuuuper picky.

In the end, I usually just bit my tongue, smiled politely, and put the burden back on the questioner: when you find me a nice man.

While marriage will save you from having to hear this question ever again, it’ll open you up to a whole other world of inappropriate questions:

Are you pregnant? (Other iterations include, When are you having a baby? and Any good news?)

This question is almost always posed to married women – I first got it the day I returned from my honeymoon (no joke!). In addition to being incredibly nosy — essentially prying into a couple’s sex life and reproductive decisions – it’s insensitive.

What response can someone give if they can’t have children or they have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive? A friend who has been struggling with infertility for years told me that this question always sends her into a downward spiral of depression and self-doubt.

Let’s not forget that this question is also inappropriate by the mere fact that it’s often asked to women who are NOT pregnant and simply carrying a few extra pounds around their midsection. I myself was guilty of this once in high school, asking a classmate if his mom was pregnant.

No, he replied, she’s just fat.

I tried to cover up my blunder, oh, sorry, I asked because she was holding her stomach and lower back.

I only managed to dig the hole deeper.

Yeah, he said, she’s fat and has a bad back.

Presumably the worst offenders will not agree with the rest of us that these questions should be off-limits. So, I propose that the next time someone asks you a question that they have no business asking, turn the question back on them: why do you ask?

Perhaps forcing them to come up with a hypothesis about their own inquisitiveness will make them realize the error of their ways:

I am nosy.
I am rude.
I am inappropriate.

Nura Maznavi is an attorney, writer, and co-editor of Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women. She is currently editing the companion book to Love InshAllah – Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy. 


19 Comments on “That’s inappropriate”

  1. Valerie says:

    Very true and well writtem..how about the tons of questions we get about our hijab?My favorite is ” You speak very good English, where are you from?” I always want to give some made up country just to satisfy their curiosity but I always just smile politely and say the truth “Tennessee.”

  2. Jennwith2ns says:

    When I lived in London, I had a host of friends who would ask me, “Excuse me, Jennie–do you know you have spots?” (They don’t call acne “spots” in the USA.)

    Wait what? Really? I do?? I had no idea!

    I also got asked the why-aren’t-you-married question a lot. The up side to getting married at almost 40 (I guess) is that by that time, although are still are a few people who will ask about kids, it’s only a very very few . . .

  3. Whycanteveryonejustbenice? says:

    I think you bring up an important and interesting point. However, the way I see it is that the root of a lot of this is that people are simply unkind. They might not even mean to be but they just hurt others. Sometimes, yes– it matters so much more that there is an audience and you are actually causing the other person hurt, but other times, gossip and having negative thoughts inside you about someone else is not any better. So for instance, I was very taken back when you talked about that aunty having never seen the inside of a gym or having only have ever ran to the buffet line earlier that evening. Perhaps that aunty will never read this article or ever be affected by this insult, but that is a lot of negative energy. If people simply created softness within their hearts and followed the sunnah in being forgiving and kind-hearted towards others, I think a lot of the issues you mention would be easily solved. I know this is not as strongly related to your point as it seems– but please– (very very cliché) but it’s not what you are trying to say or actually say– it’s usually how you say it. Disrespect is disrespect, even if your emotions are valid. Differentiate yourself from those whom you believe to be wrong.

    • itzme says:

      Well said. That’s like one fat person calling another fat person fat because she was called fat.

    • UmAdam says:

      Good point, glad you shared it :o)
      May Allah help us all to be nicer to one another, Ameen.

    • Zahra says:

      JazakAllah for the reminder – May Allah (swt) be pleased with you, Ameen

    • a786 says:

      well put. and the worst is when such questions get justified as if that person actually cares for your well-being. i try to take the higher road but the flow of negative energy is exhausting.

  4. Nadia Abdallah says:

    I was once asked if I was pregnant and I knew the woman asked me purposely bcz I had gained weight (she’s a rude person in general) I responded no I’m not, why are you? That caught her off guard n made her blush in sheer embarrassment! Ha she deserved that bcz of her rude intentions!

  5. sue says:

    sometime people just say things that come to there mind with out thinking,it is not a good to asked, so I think people should not take thinks the worse things about people, give them a break ok.

  6. srujanmora says:

    well said. I feel people should be given a FIT reply that they understand its improper to ask such questions.. Actually people hardly think before posing such questions, that too in public, because they never realize how embarrassing/painful such things would be for others to answer.

  7. Shakirah says:

    Ya, it is also happen to me. Its getting worst if I attending close relatives’ wedding reception. Just because I am fat, people assume that I am married, and ask me “when is the due date?”, “how many children you have?”, “first pregnancy?” and on and on. I just answered bluntly “oh, I’m not married, i am just fat.”
    As time goes by, they start to accuse me of being too picky and lecturing me the important of marriage. But hey, I just don’t see the potential candidates yet. But the the time come, it will happen..

  8. Sherrie Saadeh says:

    Salaam! Living part time in Jordan I had to laugh. Two co-wives were sitting with their mother in law visiting with one of the many aunties of the clan who hadn’t see either one of them for some time. Auntie turns to one and says, “Why are you so thin?” And what by the way do you respond to that when you are just thin and have always been thin? Then she turns to the other and says, “You are fat!” Both had the good graces to respond politely unlike the inappropriate auntie! Ya Allah. Where is the sunnah? Certainly NOT alive and well in Jordan.

  9. If someone asks you a question and you feel it is inappropriate. tell them assertively ” I think you’re question is inappropriate/offensive/ too personal” and leave it at that. I don’t think there is a need to respond unkindly or in a negative manner. People always ask questions. whether relevant or not, to either open conversation. glean information.in order to gain a better understanding or just plain nosey. It’s finding a positive or constructive way to deal with the question posed that counts. Best to be assertive!

    • Whycanteveryonejustbenice? says:

      I completely agree with you. This stops a cycle of hurt from occurring right in its tracks. I have shared a similar thought in a previous comment.

  10. ummahhurayrah says:

    Reblogged this on Daily Life of A Muslim Girl.

  11. scales9 says:

    We humans are more interested in other people’s affairs in general. Very good article though!

  12. Ahsan says:

    Hey. That’s a really well written article and all, and it does tackle an issue that is prevalent throughout all spectra of our society i.e. Others expressing interest in parts of one’s life that one is insecure/awkward about discussing. However I feel that we need to do some soul searching about the level of consternation that we are caused by it.

    As to the why, I think it is no secret that these aunties have more free time on their hands than they know what to do with. And when they’re not watching dramas all they have to spend their time on is gossip. And one can’t have fruitful gossip without a bit of indecent inquiry can one? It doesn’t help that with age, they develop this feeling of inviolability and entitlement……. “who do these young uns think they’re keeping secrets from anyway?”

    Now that we’ve accepted this, that being overly inquisitive is part of human (and more particularly aunty) nature, what should be the appropriate reaction? Here is my suggestion, nothing.

    The lot of us need to start developing a level of confidence in our decisions and outlook that will help us brush off these annoying pinpricks:

    Q. “Why are you not married?”
    A. “Well, not that it’s important but I haven’t found the right person, and considering that it’s a decision that i’m gonna have to live with, i’d like to give it some thought first.”

    Q. “You sure have turned into a porker.”
    A. “I know right, my sweet tooth is killing me. Must join a gym soon. How about we go together aunty, I hear shapes is offering training sessions for 3k a month? ”

    Q. “What is your paycheck like? My son recently got promoted to senior VP, thats right 500k a month.”
    A. “Wow, i’m really happy for you. Well I can’t say I make quite as much as that but enough about me, let’s talk about your son. What time does he get home at nights? 11?! That’s too bad. Must be lonely in the house without him, oh well but at least you have all that dough to keep you company.”

    Whereas some of these answers may be offensive, i’m sure the lot of you can come up with a host of better one’s that reflect confidence in your way of life; more importantly than reflecting confidence though is to be confident.

    And if there’s something you are still not confident about, face it head on. “Yes I am fat, but I will work on it.”. ” I’m not the most handsome chap in the room, but I can recite ABCD backwards” e.t.c.

    Gonads people, is the name of the game. You’ll save yourself a lot of shadowboxing if you manage to get yourself a solid pair.

    Cheers

  13. Hehehehe….one time I was cheeky enough to reply with a smile when I was asked where I am from – “Same as you & I gotten a puzzled look from the person – Earth was my answer!”

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